Meet Your Future Employee

Recent grads are bold, brash and tech-savvy, but they lack some key skills today's IT departments can't do without.

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Another of Kaiser's responsibilities is to work with other SIM members and peer professors to modify the IT curriculum nationwide. The goal is to reflect the need for up-and-comers to have stronger business, communication and project management skills -- all areas where this latest generation comes up short. "People in IT today have to be more well rounded -- they can't just have technical expertise," Kaiser says.

Web-ready collaborators

Technical proficiency is an area where newbies certainly aren't lacking. While they may not possess the tech skills of old -- expertise in outdated areas like NetWare, Cobol, even ColdFusion programming -- this new generation packs a punch with mastery of things like HTML programming and a complete comfort level with business basics like Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel, not to mention Web 2.0 advances like blogging and social networking.

Today's young workers are far more likely than their older counterparts to try using these new social and Web-based tools to solve old business problems, and they have a strong team orientation, which lends itself to the virtual collaboration so vital for today's global economy.

"By and large, this generation is very fluent with technology and with a networked world," notes James Ware, executive producer at The Work Design Collaborative LLC, a Berkeley, Calif., consortium exploring workplace values and the future of the workforce. "They're comfortable working with people in remote locations, they're comfortable multitasking, and they're not afraid to go looking for stuff. They have a sense of all things possible."

IM-speak in an IT world

Communication and basic math and writing skills, on the other hand, are not Gen Y's strong suit. According to a survey of 100 human resource professionals by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., although only 5% of college graduates overall were judged to be lacking in basic technical skills, more than half of entry-level workers possessed deficient writing skills and 27% were underperforming in critical thinking.

Some managers and academics attribute the skills gap to this generation's proclivity for cell-phone- and instant-messaging-induced "textspeak," regardless of whether it's for business or personal communication.

Other industry watchers view Generation Y's preference for virtual interaction in the digital world as a hindrance to developing face-to-face communications skills, a critical asset for a modern IT career. (See this article for more on what today's managers say are the hottest skills right now.)

"Part of the IT job is to teach others how to use technology, and the patience level of this generation is less than that of other workers," says Stephen Pickett, a longtime IT executive and current chairman of the SIM Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to promoting IT as a career option. "We need to teach them how to talk to a leader -- how to relate to someone who's not as technically savvy as they happen to be. But all of that is learned behavior that can be changed."

Marquette's Kaiser has experienced Gen Y's communication shortcomings firsthand. She says some of her technology students often hand in work that isn't written in complete sentences, and their inclination to give an instantaneous response means they're less interested developing in writing and presentation skills.

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